Facts you should know about the fighting in Gaza

Since Israel began a military offensive in Gaza on July 8, some 2,000 Palestinians and 68 Israelis have been killed. What is going on? Why is it important to you?

Fiction: Israel was exercising its “legitimate right of self-defense” in bombing Gaza.

Fact: Israel has no such “right” under international law. But the Palestinians do have a legal right to resist occupation.

Israel claims self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which says that states have a right to self-defense if attacked by another state. But Gaza isn’t a foreign state. It has been occupied by Israel since 1967, and 80 percent of its residents are refugees that were forced out of Israeli invaded land in 1948. Israel controls the land, sea and air borders of Gaza, the civil population registry, and the tax and revenue system.

So Israel is bound by other laws. The 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention and its protocols, call Israel’s occupation forced upon the West Bank and Gaza a “belligerency,” or state of war. According to these laws, the people of Gaza have the legal right to “fight against colonial domination and alien occupation in the exercise of their right to self-determination.”

Fiction: Hamas is a terrorist organization and international outlaw.

Fact: Israel disregarded Hamas, the Palestinian peoples’ elected choice, and then used state terrorism to try to get them out of office.

Hamas is one of many political, social, military, professional and charitable organizations in Palestinian society. It had enough popular support to win a parliamentary election in 2006 — an election which was called “free and fair” by U.S. former President Jimmy Carter and other election observers.

The U.S. and Israeli governments did not like the Palestinian people’s choice, so they declared economic and military war on Hamas and Gaza. Borders were sealed, and Gaza and its people were blockaded for eight years. Since that 2006 election, Israel has waged three wars on Gaza: in 2008, 2012 and now in 2014. Military measures taken by Hamas and other organizations in Gaza have been to defend the people against this constant Israeli aggression.

Fiction: Hamas started the current war by firing rockets into Israel.

Fact: For 17 months Hamas fired no rockets, while Israel repeatedly violated ceasefires and then attacked full force.

After a November 2012 ceasefire agreement ended eight days of Israeli attacks, not one rocket was fired into Israel from Gaza until Israel broke the ceasefire in February 2013.

Since then, according to the Jerusalem Fund, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C., “Palestinian launches have been rare and sporadic and occurred almost always after successive instances of Israeli cease-fire violations.”  (blog.thejerusalemfund.org, Feb. 5) The Centre for Research on Globalization reports that of the rockets fired from Gaza in 2013, “none … came from the Hamas government themselves, despite the widespread violations from Israeli forces.” (July 28) Hamas did not fire any rockets from November 2012 until June 30, 2014, after an Israeli plane struck Gaza.

Israel could easily end the rocket strikes by stopping its attacks, lifting the blockade and letting the Palestinian people have their rights.

Fiction: Gaza rockets purposely target civilians.

Fact: Israel claims “pinpoint precision” for its weapons, yet its bombs hit schools, mosques, hospitals and ambulances and demolished whole neighborhoods. These are war crimes.

Gaza rockets have killed two Israelis. Rather than purposely targeting civilians, their low-tech, mostly homemade rockets are hard to aim. Most military analysts regard these rockets as harassment rather than a serious threat to Israel. The fighters in Gaza would gladly trade their homemade rockets for the laser-guided Cruise and Tomahawk missiles that the U.S. gives to Israel.

Israel claims that its high-tech weaponry can target with pinpoint precision. Yet according to the U.N., Israeli planes, ships, tanks and bombs have killed 1,948 Palestinians — 1,402 of them civilians, including 456 children. Some 9,806 Gazans have been wounded. Israel has destroyed Gaza’s industrial sector along with whole neighborhoods, mosques, hospitals and 11,000 homes, devastating the infrastructure and creating a dire economic, humanitarian and public health crisis.

Israel took out Gaza’s only power plant. This has drastically reduced the pumping of water to homes and the treatment of sewage, both of which require electricity. The lack of refrigeration has also severely affected food production. Bakeries can barely bake bread.

Fiction: Israel struck because Hamas kidnapped and then killed three Israeli teens on the West Bank.

Fact: Israel used the deaths as a pretext for an assault on the West Bank well beyond the scope of finding the three Israelis. Hamas has denied involvement in the killings.

For 18 days, thousands of Israeli soldiers, security agents, police and special forces scoured through Palestinian towns, refugee camps and villages. They invaded thousands of Palestinian homes at gunpoint, arrested and detained hundreds of West Bank residents without charge, blew up Palestinian homes, rearrested prisoners that had been released in a prisoner exchange and killed at least six civilians who had nothing to do with the abduction of the Israelis.

Hamas denied any responsibility for the deaths of the three Israeli youth.

Fiction: The Israelis killed were just hitchhiking teenagers.

Fact: The youth were part of an aggressive, illegal settlement movement.

Circumstances surrounding the deaths of the three Israelis remain murky, as no autopsy results have been released. They were from Kfar Etzion, one of many illegal settlements whose populations serve as the flying wedge of the Israeli state’s West Bank land confiscation.

These settlers, often armed by Tel Aviv, assault Palestinians of all ages, slap Palestinian children in their faces in the street and fire on Palestinians trying to harvest olive crops. They desecrate and set fire to mosques, or declare mosques to be Jewish religious sites and off-limits to Palestinians.

For decades, the bodies of West Bank youth have been discovered, believed to have been killed by settlers roaming the countryside. Settler violence against Palestinians quadrupled between 2006 and 2014, according to the U.N. Secretariat’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Fiction: Hamas uses civilians as human shields, fires rockets from hospitals and homes, and hides weapons under bomb shelters and schools.

Fact: Israel fires on a trapped civilian population, then vilifies Gazans for defending their communities, homes and hospitals.

Using civilians as human shields certainly violates international law. However, even the New York Times states that “there is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack — the legal definition of a human shield under international law.” (July 23)

Meanwhile, by closing the borders, Israel and Egypt have forced Gazan civilians to stay in areas being attacked. The population of 1.7 million people is trapped in a 25-mile-long strip, surrounded by concrete walls and fences, with nowhere to go as it is bombed and shot at by the fourth-most-powerful military in the world.

“Gaza is unique in the annals of modern warfare in being a conflict zone with a fence around it, so civilians have no place to flee,” said Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). (Los Angeles Times, July 22)

Blogger Jim Kavanagh notes that “Israel is using the ‘human shield’ argument … to hinder careful thought and justify the unjustifiable. Israel finds ‘human shields’ everywhere there are civilians in the way the U.S. government now finds ‘weapons of mass destruction.’” (opednews.com, Aug. 3)

Israel struck six U.N. schools serving as bomb shelters and sheltering thousands of people. UNRWA said it had informed the Israeli military of the locations of the schools repeatedly, in one case 33 times. (The Guardian (Britain), Aug. 8).

Israel repeatedly bombed and finally destroyed the al-Wafa Hospital rehab center in Gaza city, claiming its grounds and vicinity were used by fighters. Basman Alashi, the hospital’s director, said the hospital had not been used by Hamas or other fighters: “Israel has targeted our hospital based on false and misleading claims. They are targeting medical facilities, the wounded, the sick and our children, all over the Gaza Strip. They want us to know that nowhere is safe.” (The Guardian (Britain), July 24)

Fiction: Israel hits only military targets.

Fact: Israel has invented a scenario for declaring Palestinian civilians “military targets.”

Law professor Ryan Goodman notes the international law definition of military targets: “lawful targets include members of the armed forces of an opposing side and individuals who ‘directly participate in hostilities’ such as helping to load and fire a weapon. The definition excludes purely political leaders, religious figures, financial contributors and others without a fighting function.” (justsecurity.org, Aug. 6)

But the Israeli military has invented a whole scenario for declaring Palestinian civilians to be “legitimate military targets.” “Israel’s warfare is … about the transformation of human beings into collateral damage, subjects who can be killed without violating international law,” explained Nicola Perugini in his article, “On ‘human shielding’ in Gaza.” (Al Jazeera, July 18)

Fiction: Hamas tunnels into Israel to kill and terrorize Israeli civilians.

Fact: Israel has blockaded and carpet-bombed Gaza. Tunnels are a supply lifeline and a defensive military response to the world’s fourth-most-powerful military.

Gaza’s tunnels are a low-tech way to bypass Israel’s siege on Gaza, get vital supplies and wage a defensive war. During the Nazi siege of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War ll, Jewish people dug tunnels to bring in food and supplies. In the same way, the Palestinians of Gaza brought in food and medicine, cement and arms through tunnels dug into Egypt. The Sisi government in Egypt closed these vital supply tunnels in 2013 and 2014, and had some of them flooded with excrement.

Hamas and other groups have tunneled under their cities and camps to store weapons for self-defense where they can’t be spotted by satellites. They have built bomb shelters for their leaders in these tunnels so their government would be able to function beneath Israeli radar. In this 47-year war called “occupation” against them, the Palestinian people have tunneled behind enemy lines into Israel for surprise attacks.

Fiction: The Israeli war on Gaza has strained U.S.-Israeli relations.

Fact: The U.S. government rearmed Israel so it could continue attacking Gaza.

The same week that Israel shelled a U.N. school, killing 16 people, the Pentagon opened up to Israel a secret cache of weapons that it keeps in Israel for its own emergency use, resupplying Israel with 120 mm mortar launchers, 40 mm bomb launchers, and detonators, grenades and ammunition so it could continue attacking Gaza. (middleeastmonitor.com, July 31).

There are no fundamental disagreements between the Israeli and U.S. governments. Israel is Wall Street’s most reliable ally in the Middle East region. Israel’s murderous attempt to crush the Palestinian people makes the Middle East safer for U.S. oil companies, who fear that people in the region will rise up and take back their resources.

But the Palestinian people will not be crushed. When the New York Times asked 28-year-old Adel al-Ghoula why he was sitting in front of the rubble of his demolished home, he said, “To tell the world: We are rooted in our land until death.” (Aug 18)

Washington gives Israel $3 billion a year, $8.5 million a day, in weapons that Israel used to bomb Gaza’s only power plant and cut off the water there. Here, the city of Detroit has cut water off to thousands of people, claiming there is no money.

U.S. tax dollars pay for the bombing of homes, factories, schools and service centers in Gaza, while funds for affordable housing, jobs, schools and social services are cut. Let’s demand that Washington stop all aid to Israel and use that money to meet human needs right here.